OKEECHOBEE — With a goal of $4,000 in mind, Bernard Marker, who works with Special Olympics, and Sheriff Noel Stephen organized a barbecue dinner fundraiser to help a local boy who needs a wheelchair. On Friday, March 26, Marker and Stephen along with Bruce Swinford from Big Lake Mission, Jack Nash and Michael Hazellief from the OCSO, Kelly Tewksbury Mullins, Darrell, Anne Marie and Theresa Donnelly, Robin and Ashley Marker, Rick Giles, from Northside Baptist Church, and Darren Homer prepared and served almost 400 meals, charging $10 per plate. COPS (Citizens Observation Patrol) delivered the meals. Casey Rogers donated 60 heads of swamp cabbage, and Kim Eide donated fry bread. When the meals were sold out, they sold those items to the people who walked up.
As the men organized the fundraiser, they spoke to many in the community, telling them of the 10-year-old boy, who had outgrown his specialty wheelchair and desperately needed a new one. The chair he needs costs approximately $4,000, and Medicaid will only provide new chairs every five years. The first two people approached about helping donated $3,000 and several others followed suit. In all, the fundraiser netted $11,570.
After subtracting the cost of the wheelchair, the men were left with more than $7,000. They discussed the additional funds and decided to contact the boy’s teacher, who originally told Marker about the need. The ESE teacher, Dana Graves, is a physical therapist assistant at the schools. Stephen and Marker thought if anyone would know of other needs, it would be Graves, and they were right. She currently has a caseload of 32 children. She also monitors many others. These children are part of the larger group of children with special needs but are farther behind because of their lack of mobility.
“We asked her if there were other needs within the school system that were not being met for these kids,” said Stephen. “Maybe the parents didn’t have the means to pay for some of this stuff.”
Graves did some research among the children and found six individual needs ranging from big wheel tricycles to walkers. In addition, she told them of needs for items she could use with all the children she comes into contact with, about 75 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. After tallying all the requests including the original wheelchair, the total came to $11,400.
“So ultimately, we are helping 75 children throughout the school system with the money collected,” said Stephen.
Both men expressed gratitude for all the people who helped whether by cooking, serving, delivering, purchasing or outright donating.
“It was a very successful day and makes us proud to live in this community that steps up when somebody needs help.”